Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


When I first read The Big Sleep back in England, back in the day, I must certainly have read the passage below, but just as certainly I must have skimmed over the term "porte-cochere."  As follows:

     “There was dim light behind narrow leaded panes in the side door of the Sternwood mansion. I stopped the Packard under the porte-cochere and emptied my pockets out on the seat. The girl snored in the corner, her hat tilted rakishly over her nose, her hands hanging limp in the folds of the raincoat. I got out and rang the bell. Steps came slowly, as if from a long dreary distance. The door opened and the straight, silvery butler looked out at me.” 
(“Silvery butler” is just stupendous, isn’t it?)

When I moved to Los Angeles I reread the Chandler novels and I remember it was time to get serious, and so I looked up porte-cochere.    Merriam Webster offers two definitions:
     1: a passageway through a building or screen wall designed to let vehicles pass from the street to an interior courtyard 
    2: a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.

      I guess it's an American thing, and I think the latter is more common - you’ll find version at thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of American motels.  However if, as many people think, the Sternwood Mansion is based on the Greystone Mansion (aka the Doheny estate), then it’s more likely to be the former, though of course the two things aren’t mutually exclusive.  Here’s the porte-cochere at Greystone, through which I have walked:

I’d have thought the term was fairly rare in British architecture although Wikipedia offers this image of the one at Nottingham station - though I'm not at all sure that anybody in England would refer to it by that name:

You know, off hand, I can’t tell you whether a porte-cochere appears in the Bogart movie of The Big Sleep, but anyway, here’s a picture of Martha Vickers – the snoring girl, here fully awake, with the silvery butler in the background.

     So, the reason I mention this now is because the other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills where, compared to the rest of LA, there isn’t so very much building and redevelopment going on.  But there was one lot where a house had been demolished and a new one was being built.  And there was this sign on the fence describing the project as a “NEW 2 STORY SFR WITH PORTE COCHERE” (SFR stands for “single family residential” – keeps out the riff-raff).

I knew I was out of my comfort zone, and I'm also pretty sure you'd have to go a very, very long way in England before you saw a sign like that.

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